Poem introduction

After I gave birth to my first child I felt sure I’d never write about it – couldn’t, and didn’t want to. I actually found it hard to write for months after that experience, everything seemed fragmentary, I thought about single words rather than lines, certainly couldn’t think about whole poems. But I woke up one morning with this phrase ‘you drew breath’ in my head, those three words. And, out of those three words, it was the verb ‘drew’ – draw – that I was drawn to. I went to the dictionary and looked down all the entries and at the verb ‘draw’ and just enjoyed so much the process of writing out all these different out that could be drawn, or could draw, and before I knew what I was doing I was writing about the birth.

You drew breath

as a boy draws something silver from a river,
an angler from the sea a bale of weed;
as a woman draws herself from a bath,
as blood is drawn from a vein.
You drew breath as thread is drawn through
the eye of a needle, wet sheets through a mangle,
as steel is drawn through a die to make wire
and oil draws up through wick its flag of fire.
You drew breath as a reservoir draws from a well
of ink and a mouth and a nose and eyes are drawn,
as a sheet is drawn from under the dying 
and over the heads of the dead.
You drew breath as the last wheezing pint is drawn,
as money and a bow and the tide are drawn; 
as up over her head a woman draws 
a dress and down onto her a man.
You drew breath as a cloud draws its pall
across the moon, across the car park 
where a sky-blue line draws the way 
all the way to Maternity; as all in blue
they drew a semi-circle round the bed,
a line and then a knife across the skin;
as in another room someone drew
a curtain round its runner, a hand across 
a pair of finished eyes. You drew breath 
as they drew you – besmeared and blue – out 
and sublime was your fury at being drawn 
into this air, this theatre; you drew breath 
for the first time – for a second I held mine.

from Salvation Jane (Anvil, 2008), © Greta Stoddart 2008, used by permission of the author and the publishers

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1The Convert



4A Hundred Sheep in a Green Field

5The Fitter

6The Night We Stole a Full-length Mirror


8The List


10Waving Goodbye to the Elegists




14A Puzzle in Four Seasons

15Salvation Jane

16The Wait

17You drew breath


19At Play


21Philosophy for Children


23The Engraver

24The Curtain




28Deep Sea Diver



31And here you are

32All those turning

33Letter from Sido

34Two o’clock

35Boy with Candle

36Skull and Hourglass

37Fire on the Beach

Books by Greta Stoddart